In 45 years, one thing hasn’t changed: seemingly small acts of kindness that create lasting ripple effects. For two of the originals, it’s just another day on the job.
Few places exude the kind of kinetic energy that’s so palpable at an airport. Young and old, harried and placid, scurry about: the cacophony of life neatly contained. Vacations and work trips, weddings and funerals, beginnings and endings.
For C.J. Bostic and Sandra Force, it’s merely another day at the office. On a warm afternoon in early April at Dallas Love Field, C.J. and Sandra stroll into work just as they have for the past 45 years. But to the swelling group of Southwest Employees watching them swan through the terminal, it’s anything but mundane. Some wave, some call out, others sneak in for a hug. A woman with shoulder-length blonde hair and a rather official looking badge pulls out her smartphone to take a photo. “Forty-five years,” she says to no one in particular. “I have to get out of here. I’m starting to tear up!”
It was a summer day in 1971 when 26-year-old Sandra Force, a former Miss Tennessee with blonde hair and a lolling Memphis drawl, was home at her Dallas apartment after teaching summer school at Amelia Earhart Elementary. “I knew this guy I had a crush on would be coming home for lunch,” she says. “As planned, he walked by the pool, and there I was in my pink bikini.” He stopped to talk and told her about a new airline that had everyone downtown buzzing. The fledgling company needed 40 Flight Attendants to jump-start operations. A now-famous ad petitioning actress Raquel Welch to join their ranks had run in newspapers nationwide and would result in more than 1,200 applications. Word was spreading. Sandra slipped off her raft, dialed the listing, and went right down to interview. She walked out with a new job that afternoon.
C.J. Bostic, an Air Force brat with cropped black hair and a megawatt smile, was 23 when she landed the job. After college, she modeled for Rothschild’s and Neiman Marcus. “You might say that modeling was my runway into the hostess corp,” she told the Southwest Inflight magazine in 1973, when she was named “Hostess of the Month.”
I first met C.J. and Sandra on that April day, about an hour before our plane to LaGuardia was scheduled to take off. We’d briefly exchanged pleasantries when, with great concern in her voice, C.J. suddenly asked our photographer and me if we’d eaten lunch. We hadn’t.
“Do you like salad?” she asked. We nodded, and she sprinted away, returning minutes later with two of “the best airport salads around.”
We were introduced to the Pilot, David Pattee, a 17-year veteran of the airline and, not coincidentally, C.J.’s former neighbor: Seventeen years ago, C.J. slipped a letter in his mailbox detailing why he should leave his current company and fly for Southwest. He still has it.
As Passengers file onto the plane, Sandra smiles and bends to greet every child. C.J. works the middle; it’s a full flight. Following the announcements, David comes on the intercom to inform everyone of the two “celebrities’’ on board. (Both C.J. and Sandra later tell me, in separate conversations, that neither subscribes to that notion, quickly listing off the names of the other original Flight Attendants still working: Sandra Bogan, Linda Pinka, Deborah Stembridge, and Jackie York.) He also tells Passengers of the pair’s 45-year tenure.
After prepping for takeoff, C.J. settles in next to Sandra in the jump seat and catches her breath. “We started when we were 2,” she says. Laughter fills the cabin as David pushes back.
Of course, it wasn’t all laughs in the beginning. “Southwest was like a short dog in tall grass,” Sandra says. “Nobody had ever heard of us. My mother always asked me why I didn’t go with Braniff or American or Delta.” She still remembers the day she went back and forth to Houston 12 times. “As long as someone was there, we had to go get them because we were trying to build our business up. I’ll never forget how my feet hurt after wearing those high-heeled boots for 12 legs.”
Being an upstart had its advantages too. When one of the three planes had a mechanical issue, everyone was sent home. “We’d spend half the time in the morning just calling each other to see if we were still flying,” C.J. says. During overnights in Harlingen, Texas, their hotel gave them a car for trips to the beach. In 1974, Sandra appeared on the cover of Esquire, which touted Southwest as “The Best of America!”
Today, C.J. compares their work to “inviting someone into your home. If you don’t make them feel welcome, they’re not going to come back. I just try to make People feel welcome.” It’s clear that some things haven’t changed at all.
A few years back, both purchased what they call their “dream homes” within a short drive of one another, and they spent much of their free time shopping together at auctions and estate sales. These days, when they’re not 35,000 feet up, you’ll find them in their respective gardens. In March, Sandra’s daffodils won two blue ribbons at the Dallas Arboretum.
“I like planting things and watching them grow,” she says.